Gallic funds broaden appeal of Italian co-productions

As Italo shingles have found it increasingly hard to access state funds at home, following Silvio Berlusconi’s cutbacks, they have been looking to foreign co-producers to supply the missing coin, and French companies are proving to be attractive partners.

In Venice, the fruits of these Italo-Franco unions are easy to find, including four pics in competition: Saverio Costanzo’s “The Solitude of Prime Numbers,” which was produced by Italy’s Offside and France’s Les Films des Tournelles, and is being sold by Gaul’s Le Pacte; Julian Schna-bel’s “Miral,” which was produced by the U.S.’ Jon Kilik and co-produced by Italy’s Quinta and France’s Pathe, which also has sales rights; Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Venus noire,” produced by France’s MK2 and Italy’s Lucky Red, with MK2 handling foreign sales; and Mario Martone’s “We Believed,” produced by Italy’s Palomar and RAI Cinema and France’s Les Films d’Ici and being sold by Wild Bunch.

The drive to find foreign co-producers, allied with the introduction of tax credits that have made Italy a more attractive destination for shooting, has encouraged Italo producers to focus more on projects with an international scope.

“The old financing structure — which was state funding plus TV pre-sales and co-production — no longer really functions,” says Stefano Massenzi, a topper at Lucky Red, which is also a distributor. “If you are doing a film just for Italy, it still works, but it doesn’t if you want to go on the international market, in which case you are thinking of a different kind of movie.”

Among the more prominent Franco-Italo co-productions in the pipeline are “Set Me Free,” helmed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose Belgian company Les Films du Fleuve teams with France’s Archipel 35 in France and Lucky Red; Italo helmer Paolo Sorrentino’s “This Must Be the Place,” which toplines Sean Penn and Frances McDormand and is produced by Italy’s Indigo Film and Lucky Red, France’s ARP and Pathe and Ireland’s Element Pictures; and Radu Mihaileanu’s “The Source,” which is backed by Indigo, France’s EuropaCorp and Elzevir Films and Belgium’s Panache Prods.

For Massenzi, success in finding co-producers “really depends on what you are bringing to the market. ‘This Must Be the Place’ is one of those projects that the market needs.

“When we go to buy a film, we look for a project that has a very good script, a good, reliable director and good cast, because then you’ve got all the elements that you will use to launch the film on the market, and this film has these three elements,” Massenzi says. “But if you have just got an Italian film with an unknown cast, it’ll remain niche.”

The French industry offers elements that the Italo biz lacks.

First, France is home to many of the world’s leading sales companies, many of which are also producers. Pathe, for example, is also the sales company for “This Must Be the Place.”

Second, many French producers are also distributors in France, and some have pan-European distribution networks. Wild Bunch, for example, runs distribution outfits in France, Italy Benelux and Germany.

Third, France’s state-backed system of support for production and foreign sales is far better developed and more generous than Italy’s. While state coin for film in France amounted to ?91.3 million ($116 million) last year, according to state org the CNC, Italian producers received only $31.1 million.

“The strength of the French industry is that it is an industry,” says Massenzi. “Outside the U.S., it is quite rare that film is considered an industry.”

What is striking about the Franco-Italo collaborations at Venice is the diversity of their subjects and talent involved.

“Miral,” for example, is helmed by an American, stars India’s Freida Pinto and is set in a Palestinian orphanage, while “Venus noire,” whose helmer is French of Tunisian descent, is about an African woman brought to Europe in the 19th century to be exhibited in a freak show.

Upcoming co-prods are equally eclectic, such as the French-lingo “The First Man,” based on a book by Albert Camus and helmed by Italy’s Gianni Amelio.

There are moves afoot to bring the French and Italo industries even closer together. In March, Italo industry org Anica launched 3 Italian Film Days, its first-ever Paris movie showcase and industry meet. Speaking before the meeting, Riccardo Tozzi, Anica prexy and head of production shingle Cattleya, said he saw the event as an important step in the Italo industry’s drive to find more partners and markets abroad, as a response to the decline in subsidies at home.

One of those at the forefront of the growing French-Italo friendship is Italian producer Fabio Conversi, head of Paris-based Babe Films, who has co-produced many standout Italo pics such as “My Brother Is an Only Child” and “Il Divo.” He attends Venice both as a co-producer of Michele Placido’s gangster drama “Vallanzasca — Gli angeli del male,” which plays out of competish, and as head of distribution company Bellissima Films, which releases Italian films in France.

France is a tough market, he says, but has started to become slightly easier for Italian films. “Every Wednesday, there are between 12-14 new movies. If you are not in the top three or four, you are dead. It is very competitive,” he says. “But I have the feeling that French audiences have started to know more and more about Italian directors and actors.”

For Conversi, France is “a country that loves and protects cinema… a country in which, if you have a strong project, you will find that people will listen to you,” he says. “To find financing for a movie is never easy, but in France you have people you can go to talk to about a project.”

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